This is not the story of a victim. This is the story of a woman with a mission, a purpose, what she calls a duty to make this school and the world a better place. The project 16(IX)3 began this past semester to better uphold Title IX and to protect future students from sexual assault at William and Mary. If you want to get in touch with members of the project to discuss similar sexual violence on campus, issues with university policy or process, or simply to support them please contact these women at firstname.lastname@example.org. The lines in italics are mine.
“I don’t want to get too ‘on my soap box,’ but I’m actually just starting out on a project [called 16(IX)3] with a couple of other women, digging more into the conversation about sexual assault. I went through the reporting process last semester, and it was, for lack of a better word, a nightmare. There is a lot to be done, and a lot to be fixed.”
“I met with President Reveley last week, and we’re really starting to dig into the issue. I think that’s why I’m coming from a place where we need to be a little bit cautious about seeing [the idealistic goals for this university] as the end all be all.”
“That process really did shake my faith in the institution. You have this sense that, ‘Oh it’s William and Mary,’ and you put your trust in the tradition there. I think it was a little bit jarring, but also kind of motivating to see that this is not an infallible institution. On the other side of that, we as students, have the opportunity and a duty to keep campus safe and work on making it better.”
What drew you to becoming a part of 16(IX)3?
“The fact that the assault and the reporting experience were very fresh. I definitely felt there was a lack of acknowledgement of myself and these other women as people, and as students. There was a lot of pressure put on us to carry on the investigation ourselves. Things like, meetings being scheduled during exam review sessions. There was a sense that the institution kind of wanted to ‘get this done, get this over with.’”
“But with everything starting with this project, I’m starting to feel that there’s potential for improvement. There’s a little hope there as well. I think the project was born out of the frustration, but as things have gone farther, there’s more of that hope, more of this vision of a community where there is open dialogue and respect for each other.”
Do you think that the history of this college, the longevity of it, has shaped our perception of sexual assault or has played a role in how we deal with it?
“Long story short, I think yes. I think when you have 323 years of anything there is a sense of self preservation, and you don’t go that long without figuring out how to handle what is essentially to the college, a PR scandal, and how to handle it quickly and effectively. That’s one of the things that’s been really hard to push against and break down, and that’s why we’re trying to come up with a better solution. Yeah, absolutely, that long and that much history of not handling these things well. It’s a little bit intimidating to stand up against that, but I have to do it anyway.”
You’re right. This place is not perfect, but I think it’s a very valiant effort to strive to make it better.
“Yeah, that’s one of the things that I think we’re really pushing for. Right now there’s a vacuum in the university system nation-wide. There really hasn’t been a school that’s really stepped up and taken the moral high ground, really standing up for the students, really standing up for policy, and uploading that policy, really taking a stand against sexual assault. Like I said, institutions treat sexual assaults as PR scandals, it’s not just William and Mary. It makes sense because ultimately the university is a business, and they need to make money, need to keep running, need students to keep applying. I think there’s a challenge, but there’s also an opportunity for William and Mary to step up and be that school. You know, we’re going to do the hard thing, but we’re going to do the right thing. As a student, and I’m hoping that other students feel this way, as the project grows, I hope we can push the administration to make that leap because I think the backing would be there, even though it would be hard to start out on that.”
If you could have a perfect system for dealing with sexual assault, what would you want that to look like?
“I guess that’s one of the big questions. We go to this administration saying, ‘We have all these problems.’ And they ask us, ‘So what do we do about it?’ That’s one of the things we’ve been working really hard on researching, trying to come up with a plan. We’re working on sort of a two-pronged approach right now. Number one is better education. Sometime during freshmen orientation, moving into the extended orientation period, we’re looking actual training about what consent is, what Title IX and the Clery Act are. These are the things we’ve had to learn on the run during the investigation. My freshman year, I didn’t know what Title IX was. I had no idea, but that’s the piece of legislation that protects us from a hostile learning space and discrimination. The idea that we, as a student body, don’t know what that is, is a little bit crazy to me, especially now that I know what kind of role it plays in everyone’s daily life. So I think that would be huge; to have the proper education in the forefront, and have people really understand going into the college experience the nuance of consent. The whole drunken hook-up thing; I get it, everybody gets to make their own choices, but I think right now our standards for acceptability are really low. I think as a community we could do better, and we should do better. Just being a little bit more careful, and a little bit more respectful. Right now there’s a lot of carelessness. Things can get ugly really quickly in those situations.”
“On the other side of that, just really cracking down on upholding the actual policy. Unfortunately during my investigation and the investigations of these other women that I was going through it with, it was the same perpetrator, and ultimately he was not expelled, so he will be welcomed back to our community which is terrifying. That should be jarring for any member of our community; the idea that he somehow slipped through the cracks. Even scarier is the thought that we’re not a unique case. This is happening here, and across college campuses everywhere. We need to come up with policy that will be a little bit more careful in terms of how it’s defining assault and how it’s handling those sanctions. When it comes down to it, those repeat offenders, those are the students you don’t want back, and the institution has a responsibility to protect us. Like I said, to promote a learning environment that is not hostile, so we can work towards this ideal view of what this institution is, so that everyone can feel good about it.”
“The thing is, it’s complicated. Assault itself is complicated, the definitions are complicated, and then from the PR standpoint it’s really complicated. Schools have been facing huge lawsuits from people who have been expelled for sexual assault. As hard as it is to come to terms with it on a personal level because, you know, it’s hard to detach yourself from these things, but I can understand the logic. Like I said, I think there’s a better solution. We as a student body deserve a better solution…See, that’s the other challenge; finding the language that’s not going to set everyone off. Everything has to be carefully considered managed. So it’s a balance, and that’s what we’re trying to work on. We’re trying to find something that everyone can agree on. It’s hard.”
That’s a really brave thing to do.
“I think it’s worth it. Like I said, as jaded as I might be right now, as disillusioned, whatever word you want to use, there is the opportunity for us to be that school that really gets it. Being a part of that would be better than any kind of punishment he may have received for what happened. Knowing that I’ve been able to effect some kind of change on campus, and then to sort of help whoever comes next because it’s going to happen, and that sucks, but if we can find some better way to handle it, that would be huge on the personal closure side.”
So you have a hopeful outlook right now?
“Yeah, and I think that’s the only way because if you’re bitter and you’re angry, you’re not going to win anyone over. It’s definitely taken time to get to this point, but I think it’s good, and I feel good about it right now.”
Is there anything else you would want to tell me about your experience?
“So I’m a little conflicted. I just spent all of yesterday getting the rhetoric together because we do have to be careful. It’s about striking a balance between working with the administration and staying true to what we’re looking for, and I think what other students are looking for.”
“I hate to be that person that says, ‘Remember guys, bad things happen.’ That’s the other thing. We’ve been trying to get together an orientation program that would work. I remember in my freshman orientation, the presentation on sexual assault was basically these women on stage telling these absolute horror stories. You’re so distanced from it that you never think, ‘That could be me in a year or two years.’ It’s so alien. We as a community are in a dangerous position where people get so caught off-guard. Small town, small school, so we’re safe, right? People can be ignorant, people can be negligent, and people can be really ugly. That’s the thing, you’ve got to look out for people, you’ve got to look out for yourself. That’s what it all boils down to. We want the education side, so that we can look out for ourselves and look out for other community members, and then we want the school to look out for us too. We want to feel like we’re making things a little bit safer for everybody.”